Here, in no particular order, are nine of our favorite hot soups worth stepping into the cold to sample.
It's cold. We can empathize. This is the dead of winter, where the only warmth is the mere knowledge that pitchers and catchers have already reported. But the prospect of spring isn't enough to keep us from shivering through the next few months. We need something warm and comforting, like a wool blanket but edible.
Hot soups are the answer, and they come in many forms and cultures. From chicken dumpling to Mexican bacon steak soup (you read it right), Cheap Eater Kevin Pang scoured Chicago with spoon in hand for nine bowls that satisfy.
Gene's Sausage Shop: Chicken noodle soup
True story: Several years back, my girlfriend (now my wife) came down with something bad and became bedridden. She lived two blocks north of Gene's Sausage Shop in Lincoln Square, and in the deep January freeze, I trekked south like a champ to buy Gene's chicken noodle soup. She said afterward that it restored her will to live (her exact words). There's no reinvention of the wheel here. It begins and ends with the restorative broth, cooked from Amish chickens in-store daily, tasting like chicken times 1,000 with a color that glows like Marsellus Wallace's briefcase from "Pulp Fiction."No hyperbole: It's both my wife's and my favorite chicken noodle soup in town. $3.49; 4750 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-728-7243; 5330 W. Belmont Ave., 773-777-6322
Birrieria Zaragoza: Surtido en barro
My one pick on this list where soup plays second fiddle. Ask for "surtido en barro" at Archer Heights' Birrieria Zaragoza, and you'll get a plate of its crisp-edged roasted goat, just the right mix of braise-tender lean and succulent fat (ask for it "with bones"). The soup surrounding the meat is, if anything, an accent — a thin tomato and garlic broth that by itself requires salt but in this role underscores the savoriness of the goat while dampening whatever gamey taste there might be. Crumble some dried chili de arbol and squeeze a few wedges of lime, and presto: You have the most rewarding pot roast in Chicago. $11; 4852 S. Pulaski Road, 773-523-3700
Viand: Tomato soup
I imagine that the tomato soup at Viand, the longtime house special, has endured thanks to the boisterous garlic-loving contingent of River North. Beneath the shade-darker-than-safetycone- orange lurks that deep, lingering, satisfying garlic haunt. I've had versions elsewhere that made me pucker from acidity, but here the heavy cream mellows the bisque to a touch sweet but mostly savory finish. It screams to be paired with a grilled cheese sandwich (which is available here, made from a one-year aged cheddar, for $8 at lunch). $5 during lunch; 155 E. Ontario St., 312-255-8505
Mariano's Fresh Market: Chicken dumpling soup
If you think supermarket soups are sad, murky vats that waste away to their congealed end, give a second chance to Mariano's chicken dumpling soup. I was surprised by its heartiness—not just in that thick, spoon-dragging way that's confused for heartiness—but with the toothsome German- style spaetzle dumpling, the sweet carrots and the deep chicken flavor (without aid of MSG) throughout the buttery, velvety soup. The one knock is that it's made in a centralized kitchen in Kenosha and shipped in, but I'd take this chicken dumpling soup over the canned stuff any day. $1.99/$2.99/$5.99; eight locations in the Chicago area. Check marianos.com for details.
Taqueria Los Gallos: Carne en su jugo
Afew years ago, a friend turned me on to a soup indigenous to the Mexican state of Jalisco called carne en su jugo. Apologies for oversimplification, but it's Mexican bacon steak soup. Clear beef consomme serves as a base, with crunchy bacon, carne asada, charred onions and beans scooped in. Radish, avocados and lime add, respectively, crunch, creaminess and zing for this meat celebration in soup form. It's the most macho soup this side of beer cheese. $9; 4211 W. 26th St., 773-762-7452; 6222 S. Archer Ave., 773-585-8835; 4252 S. Archer Ave., 773-254-2081
Toons Bar & Grill: Chili
At first glance, it appears to be your standard Sunday chili: viscous brown stew pockmarked with kidney beans, ground meat, with melted cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Three chilies —bell pepper, jalapeno and poblano—are used. But when you taste it, what's most noticeable is Toons' preference of Italian sausage over beef (and a lot of it). A splash of beer, too, seems to smooth out the chili's edges here, compared to so many renditions elsewhere favoring a gut-punch of assertive spicing. The tortilla chips on the side are fried in house, bless them. $5/$6.50; 3857 N. Southport Ave., 773-935-1919
Big Bowl: Chinese hot and sour soup
Typically the styrofoam-housed slime sold at Chinese-American takeouts, hot and sour soup takes on high status at Big Bowl. For one, there's a seven minute wait because every bowl is made to order — a base of pork rib bone stock, vinegar and soy sauce, with a distinct Chinese presence of white pepper and sesame oil. The bamboo matchsticks, shiitake mushrooms and tofu from Edgewater's Phoenix Bean give the soup crunch and bite, and the soup is finished off in the wok and swirled with an egg, creating egg-drop-like strands. $6.95; 6 E. Cedar St., 312-640-8888; 60 E. Ohio St., 312-951-1888; 215 Parkway Drive, Lincolnshire, 847-808-8880; 1950 E. Higgins Road, Schaumburg, 847-517-8881
Pozoleria San Juan: Pozole verde
The centerpiece of this Humboldt Park pozoleria is, of course, its pozole trio — red, white, green. The green pozole is my favorite, given that color by pipian (pumpkin seed), epazote (also known as wormseed), jalapenos and tomatillos that are blended to an herbaceous froth and integrated with the broth. From there it's a half-dozen simultaneous textures with every scoop: hominy, cabbage, radish, avocado, pink eraser-sized pork hunks and pork chicharrones that snap and crackle inside the soup. Rarely does a bowl of soup require loosening of your belt. This is one exception. $7.75/$8.25; 1523 N. Pulaski Ave., 773-276-5825
It's described as white borscht, but you can think of zurek as Polish sourdough soup. Water and flour ferment for 96 hours. After four days, when it has achieved that tanginess without the aid of vinegar, chicken stock is added, along with sour cream and parsley. What a wonderfully silky soup with just enough sour, fortified with Polish sausage and cooked-through garlic pieces that disintegrate on the palate. A dash of Maggi seasoning sauce, a condiment on the table, is mandatory. $3.80; 1549 W. Division St., 773-486-6655
This story was originally published Feb. 21, 2013.